Italian Style Exhibit at Portland Art Museum

Courtesy of Portland Art Museum

By Julia Stevens /// Staff Writer

After months of hearing friends rave about the Italian Style exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, I finally got a chance to check it out for myself. The show displays Italian fashion from 1945 to the present, providing a comprehensive look at the industry’s fascinating progression. As I made my way through the show, I saw galleries filled with couture so breathtaking that I would have done anything to take a garment home as a souvenir.

Many agree that when it comes to fashion, Italians know best. Since the end of the Second World War, the country has produced apparel with impeccable style and outstanding quality. From Dolce & Gabbana to Gucci to Prada, Italy is filled to the brim with renowned designers who possess a truely genius sense of fashion.


One of my favorite pieces in the exhibit was the vibrant mid-century Pucci swimsuit. This monumental garment introduced the seaside as a place to display fashion. I also loved the sleek blue velvet Gucci menswear suit. Such suits were thought to express great “sprezzatara,” which refers to dressing with stylish nonchalance. It was interesting to see that a line as prestigious as Prada used a “do-it-yourself” dip dying technique on a silk dress. This was thought to display a “pretty-ugly” style, which innovatively contradicted conventional looks. The Valentino evening dress, on the other hand, displayed a classic elegance. Its cascading tiers of tulle descended into a gathered fishtail hem over a crisscross pattern of oversized beadwork was pure eye candy. Also, the Vespa from my favorite movie, “Roman Holiday”, was on display.

By the end of my visit to the museum, I began to look at these garments not as dresses or suits, but instead as wearable art. Just like paintings or sculptures, these articles of clothing communicate rich stories. They are historical artifacts, testaments to the glamorous lifestyles of the Italian elite.


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